‘Bitcoin widow’ speaks out on relationship with Quadriga founder Gerald Cotten, the missing millions and her struggle to go on #nigeria | #nigeriascams | #lovescams


When she was 26 years old, the woman who would become known to the world as Jennifer Robertson swiped right on a Tinder profile that would change her life, ruin her life and then almost end it.

Robertson (she assumed the name after splitting with her first husband and deciding her family name no longer suited) would date, fall in love and marry the man she met through the app that day. Gerald Cotten was a like a dream to her, at first: he owned and ran his own company — a cryptocurrency trading platform called Quadriga — and like her, loved to travel.

Behind the scenes, even then, he was something else, too: the mastermind behind one of the most lucrative, though ultimately doomed, scams in Canadian history.

In 2018, shortly after they wed, they flew to India for a luxury vacation, and to attend the opening of an orphanage they were funding. However, soon after arriving, Cotten, who had Crohn’s Disease, fell violently ill and died at 30 years old.

His death kicked off the unravelling of what was found to be a massive Ponzi scheme. Auditors and lawyers would only ever recover a fraction of the more than $200 million of users’ money that was supposedly in Quadriga accounts.

Cotten’s death also threw Robertson into the spotlight, and by her account, under the bus. She has always claimed that she knew nothing about her husband’s scams, but with him dead, she became the face of them anyway. Online, she was the subject of harried speculation: that she had killed her husband; that she had covered up his fake death; that her serial name changes were proof she was guilty of … something.

Eventually, she agreed to give up almost everything she owned to Quadriga’s creditors, including homes in Nova Scotia and Kelowna, B.C., the family yacht, Cotten’s plane, her real estate business and even her engagement ring. One night, when as the scandal raged, and she was at her lowest, she tried to kill herself with prescription Ativan and red wine.

Robertson has since built a new life. She moved into the attic of her father’s cottage; she lives there still. She went back to school. (She wants to be an elementary schoolteacher.) This March, she’s expecting a baby girl with her partner.

Robertson has rarely discussed her role in the Quadriga scandal. But this week, she spoke to the Star about her life with Cotten, the aftermath of his death, and her new memoir “Bitcoin Widow,” out today.

The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.

A lot of this book is about the toll Gerry’s death and the mess he left behind took on you. You talk about this in the book, but I’m still not sure I understand: After all the work you did to move on, why write a book at all?

I always wanted to tell the general public and the affected users what really happened. I felt that my story was never fairly reported on. And so I wanted to tell my story on a platform that I trusted. I also wrote a book because of the issue of mental health. When I tried to take my life, I was so embarrassed. I thought “people are going to judge me, or think less than me.” I had all these terrible things happen. I thought my life was not worth living. And I want people know that you can come back from that point.

After Gerry’s death, you became the public face of his company and the public focus for a lot of rage. You eventually lost almost everything you owned. And yet, after everything, you say that you don’t regret meeting Gerry and that you still love him, why?

There are dark days I wake up and wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t met Gerry. I assume something this terrible would not have happened. But I did absolutely love the person that I knew. This Gerry that he turned out to be? That person is so hard to relate to the Gerry that I fell in love with. He was so unbelievably kind and caring. He adored me. He was the best husband I could ever have hoped for.

This book is, in many ways, about what you didn’t know. You say you didn’t know Quadriga was a fraud, that Gerry had been running online scams since he was a teen or that he was stealing millions of dollars from his investors to fund your lifestyle. If you didn’t know any of that, where did you think all that money was coming from?

I thought it was coming from his profits. He would talk to me about how Bitcoin was so successful. He would say Bitcoin is going to the moon and be all excited about how it was affecting his company. It just seemed like such a betrayal because he went above and beyond to make it seem legitimate and talk about how happy he was and how hard he worked. And to find out that he wasn’t? That he was stealing? It just blows my mind.

I’m sure there are people who will read the book and not believe you, who will find it implausible that you had no idea about any of it, that you weren’t suspicious at all. What would you say to them?

I mean, no one’s going to 100 per cent agree with me, but All I can do is tell the truth and hope that it does provide some answers, at least, to some affected users. I was trying desperately hard to make it all right, for everybody. And it just was beyond my control.

What do you think would have happened to the company, and to your life, if Gerry hadn’t died when he did?

I honestly have no idea. Because if the hole was as big as it was, I don’t know how he would have ever dug himself out of it. And I don’t know if that’s part of this intense stress that he had in the six months before he died. He just would drink all night, even if I wasn’t drinking. I thought that was really odd.

You write that, after Gerry’s death, creditors, reporters and others twisted the ordinary events of your real life “into puzzle pieces in a grand conspiracy.” I don’t think there’s any question that you suffered tremendously because of that. I’m curious, who do you blame for that suffering?

I don’t know if there’s anyone specifically to blame, except I really kind of want to blame Gerry. He was the one that put me in that position. And as much as I was hurt by the media and all the accusations by the affected users, they were just going off of the facts that were known. And that is one reason why I wanted to tell them what happened in the book because I’m hoping that if they really know what happened, from my side, that they’ll understand more.

You write in the book that investors “trusted Gerry, accepted the risks until they got burned then looked around for someone to blame.” You also write that Gerry “should never have been in a position to hold all the levers of a multi-billion-dollar company with no internal and external oversight.” Do you think anyone — investors, banks, regulators — besides Gerry should share any of the blame for what happened with Quadriga?

Ultimately, it was Gerry. As a normal, decent human being, you should not have done something that terrible to other people. But I do think that regulations and regulators are there to keep other people responsible and in line, and I wish that there had been more of that because then Gerry wouldn’t been able to get away with what he did for so long.

There was a Vanity Fair story that played off two narratives: the narrative of Gerry the Royal Screwup: where scams begat scams, and the Mastermind Theory, where he planned to keep the con going as long as possible before vanishing with the money. Where do you think the truth lies?

This is a tough question. And I thought about it too, because I know he knows that I never would have vanished with him if I found out what was going on, like absolutely not. And I find it hard to believe that Gerry would want to be anywhere without me. I can make guesses all day, and it really sort of depends on the day. But either way, to be honest, when I really think about it, I don’t even know if he knew what he was going to do. And that’s why he was so stressed out and drinking heavily, because he wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

There are, as you acknowledge, a lot of odd facts about this story: the fact that Gerry signed his will just before his death, that you’ve changed your name multiple times, that he died suddenly as things were collapsing behind the scenes. But what all of that adds up to, you write, is, “far more mundane, random and explicable” than the faked-death and other conspiracy theories alleged. If you had to sum up the real story here, what would you say?

If I had to sum up the real story, I would say: Boy met girl. They fell in love. He had a successful company, from the outside, that he fooled everybody with. And then he ended up running a Ponzi scheme. And before he got caught, he died.





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